Exploring the Link between Vaping and Mental Health in Young People

California Addiction Rehab Center

It was kind of exciting when vaping hit the scene in a big way around a decade ago. Non-smoking pedestrians suddenly noticed a significant amount of relief—the constant smell of cigarette smoke had been replaced by—blueberries?

It was better yet for smokers. Suddenly, they had a way to ween themselves off a habit that seemed unbreakable. Sure, there had been patches, gum, and mints in the past, but none of those habits replicated the physical actions of smoking. 

Vaping seemed like a healthy, sustainable alternative to one of the most challenging addictions to kick. A decade later and the picture is a little more complicated than many at first assumed. While vaping has helped many former smokers kick the habit, it has also introduced the next generation of teenagers to a new way to get hooked on nicotine, creating a public health crisis that likely could have been entirely avoided. 

In this article, we take a look at the effect vaping has on young people, both in terms of their physical and mental health. 

Vaping is Addicting

The first and most concerning aspect of vaping is that it is a highly addicting habit. While it eliminates tobacco from smoking, users still get a significant amount of exposure to nicotine—the chemical that makes smoking so addicting in the first place. 

The high nicotine content of vaping is what has made it such a good tool for former smokers. However, many of the young people who pick up vapes today never smoked cigarettes, to begin with. They aren’t using their vapes as a way to wean off a bad habit. They’re just…using them. 

But why should that matter? This is a free country after all. If teens and twentysomethings want to kick off an addiction, they have every right to do so. And it is better than tobacco usage, right?

Well. Perhaps. But it turns out that the addictive properties have mental health consequences that many young people aren’t aware of when they first begin the habit. 

Anxiety and Depression

There is a strong correlative connection between vaping and increased occurrences of anxiety and depression. This connection is thought to be the result of nicotine, as well as other chemicals that are present in vape vapor. 

These chemicals can disrupt certain chemicals in your brain, resulting in depression and anxiety. Addiction in general is also just strongly associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Further Substance Abuse

The concept of a gateway drug has admittedly been called into question in recent years. The idea behind the “gateway,” concept, is that individual users will start with a relatively benign substance— cannabis, alcohol, nicotine— and then transition into harder drugs. 

While there is a strong common thread between people who use nicotine and those who use harder drugs, it is hard to determine if that relationship is correlative or causative. 

Regardless, it is worth noting that many people who use harder drugs also use vaping products. 

Reduced Cognitive Function

Vaping has also been associated with a reduction in the user’s ability to think clearly for a sustained period of time. This effect has been witnessed most prominently in young users, resulting in everything from a diminished performance in school to general frustration and a lack of motivation. 

It is worth noting that this directly contradicts many people’s assumption that nicotine can be used as a tool for boosting concentration. 

Withdrawal Symptoms 

Perhaps most challenging of all are the experiences of withdrawal symptoms that many vape product users encounter. This issue goes back to the addictive nature of nicotine-related products. While withdrawal symptoms are most strongly associated with attempts to quit vaping, serious users can even encounter them in between regular vaping sessions. 

Withdrawal symptoms are very serious and can result in headaches, fatigue, agitation, anxiety, and depression. 

Physical Issues

It’s worth noting that vaping is associated with a wide range of physical consequences as well. Many people have experienced respiratory issues resulting from their vaping habit. Vaping is also bad for your heart, creating a momentary elevation in blood pressure and heart rate that can result in damage over time. 

Long-term vaping has also been associated with gum disease and other oral health issues. These consequences are similar to those experienced by cigarette smokers. 

Other Issues

It’s also worth noting that physical and mental health problems are not the only issues associated with vaping. There is also a significant environmental consequence that many people are not aware of. The vapor that gets released during vaping has been shown to be harmful to the ozone layer. 

The lithium batteries that vapes use are also very destructive. Vape batteries are supposed to be disposed of at specialized recycling facilities. Unfortunately, most people do not do this— either because they want to avoid the associated fees, or because they simply didn’t know they were supposed to. 

Consequently, a significant percentage of vape batteries wind up in landfills, where they lead to soil and water contamination. 

While many of the problems associated with vaping have only personal consequences, the environmental issues impact everyone. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to vaping, there are resources available to help. It is never too late to kick a vaping habit. 

How to Stop Vaping

Of course, the best way to avoid the symptoms described above is to never start vaping in the first place. However, if you are already experiencing addiction symptoms, there are ways that you can ease your journey into a vape-free life. 

Many users find that it is best to gradually reduce the nicotine content of their vape cartridges. This will allow you to continue vaping at your usual times while slowly weening yourself off the aspect of the habit that is addicting. There are also other nicotine supplement products— patches, gums, etc. that can help you transition away from vaping. While these products can be helpful, it is important not to trade one bad habit for another. The end goal should always be to live a nicotine-free life. In the case of emergency, it is highly recommended to go to crisis intervention counseling if withdrawal symptoms become extreme.

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